Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks
There may be a pattern developing when it comes to Broadway stars staging cabaret/nightclub shows at 54 Below. In late June, Brian d'Arcy James performed an energetic and entertaining concert at the new venue that was built largely around the songs he loved growing up in Saginaw, Michigan in the 1980s. Last night, Marin Mazzie, who has starred in Passion, Ragtime, Kiss Me Kate, Man of La Mancha, Spamalot and-like James-Next to Normal, paid homage to her childhood and teenage years in Rockford, Illinois, to the songs her parents loved, and to some of the 1960s and 1970s hits that fed Mazzie's passion to be a singer. ("These songs were the foundation for what was to come.") And man, was she sexy doing it.
Wearing a form-fitting, white cocktail dress with a wash of sparkly gold beads, Mazzie sensuously sashayed onto the stage before singing a cool, swinging arrangement of the Rosemary Clooney hit "Come on-a My House," a song that she watched her martini-infused parents dance to when she was a kid. She followed that with delicious renditions of "That's All" and another Clooney hit, "Tenderly," the latter delivered in such a sultry style (thanks to an arrangement from her bass player Peter Donovan), that it sounded as if it came from a classic film noir soundtrack.
Mazzie kept stoking the seductive flame on a sublime percussion-only rendition of "Begin the Beguine," featuring fabulous drumming from Larry Lelli. When she followed that with a playful, yet sincere "I Think I Love You" (of course she loved David Cassidy), it was likely the first time in cabaret history that a Cole Porter classic was followed by a Partridge Family tune. The audience ate it up. If anyone was disappointed that the three-time Tony Award nominee didn't structure her show around a boat load of Broadway show tunes, you'd never know.
Cabaret show scripts filled with reminiscences of why the performer grew up with a passion for certain songs or entertainers can often be cloying and cliché, but Mazzie's director Scott Burkell kept her to just the right amount of charming snippets about her past that were both funny and relatable (like dreaming of being a long, lost Partridge Family member and making a "huge commitment to pop music" through buying 13 albums for a penny from the Columbia Record Club). These cute anecdotes worked very well around her sweetness on the 1969 Cass Elliot hit "Make Your Own Kind of Music," her power on the 1963 Dionne Warwick song "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (written by Burt Bacharach and the just deceased Hal David), and her teasing, come-hither sexiness on the 1974 Maria Muldaur hit "Midnight at the Oasis" (featuring Larry Saltzman on guitar). Mazzie was given solid support on all these classics from her musical director/pianist Joseph Thalken, who also provided nice, non-intrusive background vocals.
Mazzie then brought all her emotion and musical theater acting chops to bear on the 1971 Carly Simon hit "That's the Way I've Always Heard it Should Be," and even came up with a cabaret 11 o'clock number, building slowly on Barry Manilow's 1974 hit "Weekend in New England" (written by Randy Edelman) until hitting a power ballad climax. The only thing left on the Amazing Mazzie's agenda was fitting in a tribute to another of her teenage musical crushes, Davey Jones of The Monkees, and when she swished her lovely blonde tresses, boogied like a 1960s Go-Go dancer, and banged a tambourine against every party of her body on "I'm a Believer," the 54 Below audience had definitely become believers.
Marin Mazzie continues her current run at 54 Below on September 5, 6, 7, 8 at 8:30pm and September 7, 8 at 11pm. 54 Below is on 254 West 54th Street.